Monday, October 26, 2015

The New Mother, by Eugene Fischer

Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2015

Tess Mendoza is working on an important new article for the biggest magazine she's ever worked for. She's also pregnant, and starting to feel her baby moving.

These two facts are connected in an uncomfortable way.

Tess and her partner Judy chose to use an anonymous donor from a sperm bank to avoid any possible complications of the father someday wanting parental rights. The story Tess is researching concerns a new disease, still going by a number of names--one of which is Human Communicable Parthenogenesis. Women are getting pregnant without men, producing baby girls who are essentially clones of themselves. This is a sexually transmitted condition; whatever the as yet unidentified infectious agent is, it renders men sterile and women parthenogenic reproducers.

Their daughters are also parthenogenic reproducers.

Evidence suggests it originated six years ago, and while Tess and Judy selected the oldest sperm they could find, from a demographic group that seems not to have been the earliest infected, it's still only five years old. Their risk is very, very low, but not zero.

The story thoughtfully explores the stresses on Tess and Judy as a couple, the stresses on Tess, the edgy relationship between Tess and her own mother, Layla, along with the challenges of tracking down sources on this story where the sources most in demand--one of the most famous cases, a woman who was part of a religious cult when she became infected and started having babies--is stonewalling everyone.

I was totally caught up in it.

This is in many ways a very American story, with the issues surrounding HCP  very tied up with American culture wars issues. That's not a weakness, but it is a reason this story may be less accessible to non-Americans.

What is a weakness is that it doesn't end; it just stops, at a seemingly arbitrary point. It was startling and unsatisfying.

Interesting, but not ultimately successful.